PennDOT seeks help for Kenmawr Bridge

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Nearly six months after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation asked a railroad to repair one of the area's most feeble bridges, nothing has happened.

The 103-year-old Kenmawr Bridge, which crosses Norfolk Southern Railway tracks and connects Swissvale and Rankin, has a posted weight limit of 6 tons, making it off-limits to anything heavier than a delivery van. It carries Braddock Avenue, a major Mon Valley artery.

PennDOT on May 24 wrote Norfolk Southern, which is responsible for maintaining the bridge, saying "it may become necessary to lower the (weight limit) even further or close the bridge within the next few years, if certain repairs are not completed soon."

It listed 10 repairs needed to restore the previous 12-ton weight limit and asked the railroad to do them "as soon as possible."

The repairs have not been made, and PennDOT is considering taking the matter before the Public Utility Commission, which regulates railroads, said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, assistant district executive.

In response to an inquiry from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon would say only that the railroad "is reviewing PennDOT's letter."

The Kenmawr Bridge is rated both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, and on Pennsylvania's 100-point sufficiency scale, it grades at 3.5, one of the lowest scores in the state. Only nine of 1,560 bridges in Allegheny County have lower weight limits.

The sidewalks on both sides are closed and a narrow walkway straddles one of the travel lanes, separated from vehicles by a makeshift chain-link fence.

An inspection in 2012 caused the lowering of the weight limit, which had been 12 tons (with a 22-ton limit for combination vehicles), early this year. That forced Port Authority to reroute its buses, adding 15 to 20 minutes to travel times.

The roadway also is a major feeder to the Parkway East interchange in Swissvale.

Of possible further concern is that during the 2012 inspection, workers observed several overweight trucks crossing the bridge, at a time when the weight limit was double what it is now.

Swissvale and Rankin police could not be reached for comment about their enforcement of the limit.

The inspection report, obtained by the Post-Gazette under the state's Right to Know Law, is filled with findings of corroded and cracked steel, peeling paint and cracked and spalling concrete throughout the bridge's superstructure and substructure, both of which were rated in poor condition. It estimated the repair costs at $461,000.

Another inspection was performed last month, but PennDOT has not yet received the report, Ms. Moon-Sirianni said.

The PennDOT letter noted that a 1989 Public Utility Commission order requires Norfok Southern to maintain the bridge sufficiently to allow 15-ton vehicles to use it.

No money is programmed to replace the bridge, the cost of which is estimated at $5 million.

But the project is listed in PennDOT's Decade of Investment report as one that would be funded if the Legislature approves either Gov. Tom Corbett's transportation funding plan or a bigger proposal that has passed the Senate.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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